India votes against Sri Lanka at UNHRC; what next?

It remains to be seen what the repercussions of the Sri Lanka vote will be.

Bushra Ahmed/OneWorld South Asia

In an unprecedented show of diplomatic bravery, India was among the 24 nations that voted against Sri Lanka for alleged human rights violations during the war against LTTE, at the UNHRC in Geneva.

The Indian government’s decision came as a surprise as the South Asian nation has always been careful about such country-specific resolutions. The Sri Lankan situation has been one of the major concerns to the UN and other human rights organisations, which tried repeatedly to charge the Sri Lankan government with crimes against humanity. The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) has been accused of crimes against the civilian population during the war against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and continuing their war-path ways even after it.

The 47-member human rights council had 24 votes in favour from countries like Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay, India and the US; while 19 members like China, Russia, Pakistan and Bangladesh voted against it. Many of the 19 no-vote members come as no surprise, especially China and Russia, which in many such similar situations refused to vote keeping up the facade of respecting the sovereignty of States.

While India, concerned about the feathers it has ruffled in Sri Lanka, rushed to clarify its stand, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna put forward a statement, “As far as our position on the resolution is concerned, we are engaged with all parties in an effort to achieve a forward-looking outcome that is based on reconciliation and accountability rather than deepening confrontation and mistrust between the concerned parties.”

This ‘softening’ of the vote, will make India walk a fine line where the issue at hand is concerned. If India wants to look serious about its concern over human rights violations, it will need to move away from such fumbling of excuses and swing into action in the coming months by pressing Sri Lanka as the UNHRC resolution is not legally binding. And get away from such fumbling about for excuses.

For the Sri Lankan government the resolution would imply three things. It puts some pressure on the government to explain how it will address the violation of international humanitarian laws and how it plans to act upon the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). It will also provide space for the UN Human Rights office to help the Sri Lankan government in terms of advice, assistance, and rehabilitation.

Whether it is internal politics that made India abandon its long friendship with Sri Lanka, or a genuine concern, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it, “One has to weigh pros and cons. What we did was in line with our stand on Sri Lanka. We do not want to infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka but concerns should be expressed so that Tamil people can get justice and lead a life of dignity”.

The way forward looks interesting for it could have many implications. So, while the world conjectures on whether or not China and Sri Lanka will form stronger bonds, to what India-Sri Lanka relations will go through; what should remain the focus is the active translation of this resolution.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)